Monday, January 14, 2008

Progressive Alaska Interviews Erin McKittrick

Erin and Hig are headed to the funnel between Gunsight Mountain and Lion's Head, where the Copper River drainage and Matanuska headwaters almost meet in one of the most spectacularly dramatic landscapes on the Alaska road net. Their next big stop will be Anchorage, where they hope to get to in about a week to ten days. They've gotten really, really good at walking. Recently, in the cold.

Erin posted an update at their trip blog late this morning, before they once again hit the trail. A couple hours before that, I spoke with her for about 40 minutes about the trip, their goals and what we can do to help them when they arrive in Anchorage, for the longest layover of their odyssey from Seattle to Unimak Island.

What I asked in the interview was mostly about logistics of getting the word out about their trip and the philosophy that under-rides it. The questions I asked were answered so well. My notes - scribbled on a small legal pad - were so inadequate. But Erin, in today's blog post, answered them herself, so much better. I had asked what their rules are. I'll quote fairly extensively:

No Motorized Transport.

That’s it. Most of the time, we are deep in the wilderness where the rule is entirely irrelevant. In towns, it’s a minor inconvienience, as we refuse all offers of rides, and wander to do our shopping, errands, and visits on foot. But since Valdez, we’ve re-encountered the net of the highway, and the rule has suddenly become much more important.

So, why have the rule? Some kind Canadians were very impressed with our rule - how we were not emitting CO2 and contributing to global warming with our expedition. As we walk past shrinking glaciers on useless maps, climate change jumps out at us all the time. But as we eat our cookies, noodles, and butter from thousands of miles away, dressed in petroleum clothes, we’re clearly as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Our informal rule of not having any food drops (planes making trips solely for us), probably matters much more.

The answer lies in our idea of ‘ground truthing’ this entire 4000 mile chunk of country. We want to see everything that’s out there. The good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. If we start skipping over bits in a zooming vehicle or boat - because they seem boring, or because we fear they might be difficult - we make the journey less complete. An adventure is the epitome of unpredictable. And we never know where and when the most amazing experiences will happen, or the most important lessons will be learned.


Hig pulling the pack rafts


Polarbear said...

What a great continuing story.

There is potential for this kind of visitation in Alaska, on many local scales. Wouldn't it be great to develop sustainable family businesses based on ecotourism, trekking, sea kayaking, support equipment manufacturing, and related literature.

Isn't it strange how some of us come to Alaska and end up mimicking the very aspects of lower 48 life we hoped to leave behind? There is nothing like a living example.

Philip Munger said...


What a great point! This couple are the opposite of Christ McCandless, who came, saw, perished - without really proving anything.

Erin and Hig have other interests. She's a fine jeweler, he's just finishing his PhD in science. But eco-tourism, combined with trekking could be a new boon. Trying to insure your business might be a whole 'nother matter, though.